The Israeli-US Relationship As a Train Wreck

At what point does Israel and its complicated settlement situation become a liability for the United States as Americans cope with the growing pain of recession and decline?

The United States has been an enthusiastic partner of Israel’s worst Iron Wall policies since the beginning of the state in 1948 and, most intimately, in the years following the 1967 war. The decision to see the West Bank, Gaza and all of Jerusalem as conquered, militarily occupied territory and the acceptance or encouragement of a settlers’ movement has led to a world-class impasse and growing international anger at Israel.

The madness has gotten to the point that, even if leaders of the United States and Israel suddenly woke up one morning and accepted a Palestinian state, the state of Israel would be at odds with its own settlers it sent out to colonize the conquered areas. Accepting a Palestinian state would require Israel to take on some of its most volatile citizens with military force to dislodge them.

Israeli settlers and two settlementsIsraeli settlers and two settlements

The more Israel insists on its role as conqueror of Palestinian territory, the more dicey Israel’s hold on international respect becomes. And it all seems to be coming to some kind of a head this month as the hurricane known as The Arab Spring heads into totally uncharted waters.

“We’re watching a potential train wreck,” a senior western diplomat (speaking anonymously due to the gravity of the situation) told The New York Times.

The “train wreck” he was referring to is the convergence of three ominous things this month.

First there’s Israel’s growing struggle with Turkey, which has become the world’s best model for a workable, moderate Islamic state. Recently, the powerful regime of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan amazingly cleaned out the top leadership of its corrupt military.

This week, Erdogan is visiting Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. In Egypt, Islamic politicians are now labeling themselves “the Egyptian Erdogan.” He begged off a planned visit to Gaza, concluding that such a visit would be too provocative, but he says he’s setting up a Gaza trip with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas leader Ismail Haniya.

Angered over the shooting of Turks on a flotilla ship to Gaza last year, Erdogan sent the Israeli ambassador packing and threatened to send Turkish war ships with the next Gaza flotilla. Israel prudently chose not to respond to the threat. Turkish President Abdullah Gül called Israel “an ungrateful burden to its allies.” Until recently Turkey had been one of those allies.

Righteous Israelis, meanwhile, are linking Turkey with Hamas and Iran as all part of a sinister “Islamicization” movement. What is going on in Turkey, according to Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, is “just like what happened in Iran in 1979.”

The second train wreck element occurred on Friday following the Israeli killing of three Egyptian soldiers near the Sinai border. Egyptian street protesters — fueled by energized soccer fans looking for revenge against the police who had attacked them at a recent match — tore up the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and actually got inside the building to beat and harass Israeli officials. During the melee some police and/or military apparently watched the fun and many embassy occupiers were let go. The military did kill two people, injure 1200 and arrest 19, to be tried by military courts.

Finally, there’s the determination of the Palestinians to patch up their differences and go to the United Nations in two weeks and request recognition as a nation state. Recognition in the UN Security Counsel would mean full nation state status; but a US veto is virtually assured. Endorsement as a state in the UN General Assembly is the real issue. It would amount to only the recognition of Palestine as an “observer state,” which would allow Palestinians to do things like bring charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court – a public relations nightmare for Israel and the US.

So no one is surprised that Israel and US leaders are all sounding a chorus of doom, complete with crocodile tears about the blow it will mean to peace. They say it will be the end of negotiations. “[I]t will begin a long funeral for the peace process and negotiations,” said Yuli Edelstein, Israel’s minister for public diplomacy. Israelis may not have noticed, but peace negotiations have been comatose for some time.

The Israeli left takes a much more reasonable approach on the train wreck in process:

“He [Prime Minister Netanyahu] has not done a thing to mitigate the fallout from (these) developments,” says Aluf Benn, of the left-leaning newspaper Haaretz.

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a member of the Israeli Parliament from the Labor Party and a former defense minister, went to the core of the issue: “The world is tired of this conflict and angry at us because we are viewed as conquerors, ruling over another people.”

Ben-Eliezer goes further and suggests the unthinkable: “If I were Bibi Netanyahu, I would recognize a Palestinian state. We would then negotiate borders and security. Instead nothing is happening. We are left with one ally, America, and that relationship is strained, too.”

How long that strained relationship can continue down the same tiresome road seems to be the big question hanging in the air.

Besides recognizing Palestinian statehood as a good thing for Israel, it would also have been a brilliant statesmanlike move for Netanyahu to swallow his pride and just accept Palestine’s right to control sea access to Gaza and to allow the two flotillas to dock. He would have been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize! Allowing the flotillas to dock would have been a major gesture on which to sit down at the negotiation table to have real talks. The risks of weapons being on board were infinitesimal and Israelis knew it.

But, then, Iron Wall Fortress Israel would have to give up something and accept some modicum of risk. Mainly, it would have to significantly modify its insistence that peace cannot happen unless Palestinians recognize they are a conquered people and accept Israel’s boot on their neck. The risk would hardly be greater than the risk they’ve taken on from their belligerent settlement policies.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has apparently assumed the posture that it’s better to live in Hell standing on your feet than on your knees in a Heaven constructed by your enemies. Israeli and US backpedaling seems too little too late.

So how long can the United States endorse the disastrous, isolating policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman? Faced with unprecedented economic challenges at home, how long can the American people afford to indulge the Israeli right? Put another way, how long before the wisdom and the grace of Israel’s left finally surfaces as a reasonable alternative?

One key would seem to be the Jewish population here in the US. At what point does this key political force wake up and realize its beloved Israel may be in the hands of US/Israeli engineers driving it toward a major train wreck?